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International Women’s Day Houses of Parliament 9 & 10 March 2023

It is vital that local government reflects the communities it represents. Positively, women make up 76 per cent of employees in the local government workforce.

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Key messages

  • It is vital that local government reflects the communities it represents. Positively, women make up 76 per cent of employees in the local government workforce and 32 per cent of serving MPs. In addition, while women still only 33 per cent of councillors in England, this has increased 5 per cent in the last 20 years, showing some progress.
  • However, we know we need to go further to ensure more women are represented in public life. Councils are committed to breaking the bias women continue to face, through supporting more women into local politics and positions of leadership, and ensuring all local services actively work to overcome gender-based inequalities.
  • Our members feed-back that a lack of pension contributions and parental leave; a lack of flexibility in how they can attend meetings and the abuse and intimidation directed at those at in public life, act as barriers to women and other under-represented groups standing as a councillor or taking on responsibilities as a cabinet member.
  • We are committed to tackling these issues and helping councils to improve their diversity and inclusion, including by calling on the Government to reinstate the flexibility for councils to hold virtual meetings and encouraging the provision of leave arrangements. Through our sector led improvement offer, the LGA also provides a series of programmes, campaigns and toolkits to help our members encourage and support women and those from other underrepresented groups to run for political office.
  • Many politicians face abuse, online and offline, but our Debate Not Hate research shows that there is a perception that women and other underrepresented groups are more likely to receive higher volumes of personalised and discriminatory abuse than others. The increasing level of abuse and intimidation is undermining local democracy, preventing elected members from representing the communities they serve, and deterring individuals from standing for election. The LGA’s Debate Not Hate campaign therefore aims to raise public awareness of the role of councillors in their communities, encourage healthy debate and improve the responses and support for local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.
  • The LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign is at the heart of our work to encourage more people from all walks of life to engage with politics and to stand as a councillor. Our Women’s Leadership programme also offers vital support to female councillors, to help them hone their political skills, build their professional networks and support them into positions of leadership.
  • The LGA has also launched a toolkit to help councils create underlying policies, procedures, ethos and environment that encourages and empowers women, parents and carers to become local councillors and take on leadership positions.
  • We hope the Online Safety Bill will go some way in addressing the concerns we have heard from our membership in regards to online abuse and intimidation. However, we regret the removal of the harm-based communications offence by the Government at committee stage in the Commons, which could have been an important tool in tackling this intimidation, harassment and abuse.
  • Councils’ services play a vital role in proactively improving the lives of women, ranging from the support councils provide to new mothers, to protecting domestic abuse victims, tackling female genital mutilation (FGM), providing affordable and secure housing, family services and much more.
  • The LGA is committed to tackling inequality in all its forms. We are working to support councils to address the inequalities exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the disproportionate impact they have had on marginalised groups through an intersectional approach.

Further information

Democracy and decision-making are strengthened when councillors reflect the people they seek to serve and represent. Representative councils, with equal participation of men and women, are best able to engage with and speak for their communities and carry out the business of local government effectively. 

Debate Not Hate Campaign

Last year, the LGA launched the Debate Not Hate campaign in response to many councillors facing abuse and intimidation every day, which is preventing elected members from representing the communities they serve, deterring individuals from standing for election and undermining local democracy. Seven in 10 councillors reported experiencing abuse and intimidation over the last 12 months and councillors reported feeling that abuse is becoming more common and increasing in severity. The campaign aims to raise public awareness of the role of councillors in their communities, encourage healthy debate and improve the responses and support for local politicians facing abuse and intimidation.

There is evidence that increasing levels of toxicity of debate and abuse against public figures are having an impact on our country’s democratic processes at a national and local level. In 2017, the Committee for Standards in Public Life published a report on Intimidation in public life in which the Committee suggested that “the scale and intensity of intimidation is now shaping public life”. Since then, research into abuse toward parliamentary candidates has supported anecdotal concerns that levels of abuse are increasing and that women, ethnic minority and LGBTQIA+ politicians receive more discriminatory abuse related to their personal characteristics. During the general election in 2019, concerns were raised over a number of female MPs who retired from politics and cited abuse they faced as a key factor in their decision-making.

As noted in our report on the impact of abuse on local democracy published last year, there is a clear perception in local politics that women and other underrepresented groups receive higher volumes of more personalised and threatening abuse compared to other groups.

We are calling on Councillors, Parliamentarians and organisations to add their voice to the Debate Not Hate public statement and be part of the call for change. Debating and disagreeing with one another has always been, and will continue to be, a healthy part of democracy. However, the right engagement matters and abuse and intimidation crosses the line into dangerous territory and has no place in politics.

Be a Councillor 

The LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign aims to help councils encourage a more diverse range of people consider standing for election. Councils are encouraged to think about holding prospective councillor events, creating short films to showcase the role of the councillor or sharing our e-Learning to educate on what local government does. A variety of councils across the country are supported to run their own Be a Councillor campaigns. 

The LGA has worked with Elect Her (formally known as The Parliament Project) on several events focused on encouraging more women to stand for election. Elect Her is an organisation aimed at inspiring, empowering and encouraging women to run for political office in the UK. 

Civility in public life 

Across the UK, there are growing concerns about the impact an increasing level of public intimidation and toxicity of debate is having on our country’s democratic processes. Feedback from our members indicates that there is not a consistent response from the police across the country and that there is confusion about reporting, support, legislation and impacts for our society and democracy. In response, the LGA is working closely with WLGA, COSLA and NILGA to coordinate a programme of work entitled Civility in public life. 

The purpose of the programme is to address the intimidation of local government members and officers; to address standards of public discourse; to address standards of political discourse and behaviour in public office; and to provide support and advice to councils and councillors. Many councillors continue to experience abuse, harassment and intimidation, and, in particular, councillors have highlighted that they face misogynistic, homophobic, racist and other forms of harassment in relation to protected characteristics. Everyone in public life should be able to go about their daily business without abuse or fear of attack. Yet the reality of the abuse councillors face can prevent people, particularly women and other-represented groups, from entering into and staying in politics. 

Resources under the programme include a Guide to handling harassment, abuse and intimidation, our Councillor guide to social media, and digital citizenship support and resources, including our five rules of engagement online. The rules support candidates and councillors to set out how residents can engage with them online; they highlight that polite disagreement and debate is welcome, but abusive, discriminatory or threatening behaviour is unacceptable, and what will happen if the rules are broken. 

Creating Twenty-first century councils 

We know that many prospective councillors are put off standing because of their already busy lives, with women in particular more likely to have caring or childcare responsibilities. We want to see more women, parents and carers stand for election and encourage them to step up to leadership roles in local government, while still being able to live their lives outside of the council chamber. 

The LGA’s toolkit Twenty-first century councils, backed by the Department of Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, is aimed at helping those who have other responsibilities, such as looking after children, including those with special needs, caring for an older relative or who want to start a family, to be councillors and represent their communities. It also provides support to women councillors and their families, some of whom have faced intimidation, particularly online, and to encourage and empower them to stand for election again in future. 

The LGA is working to reduce the barriers that often prevent women from entering politics, for example, by encouraging councils to have leave arrangements in place, and calling on the Government to reinstate councils’ powers to hold online and hybrid meetings.  

Throughout the pandemic, councils effectively conducted all of their business virtually, which allowed them to make critical decisions without delay and carry out the everyday functions of local democracy. Crucially, the option to attend meetings virtually increased accessibility for both councillors and the general public, particularly for disabled people and those with caring responsibilities. As a result, many councils saw positive increases in both public participation and councillor attendance. Conversely, LGA research confirmed that the return to exclusively in-person meetings since May 2021 resulted in a reduction of public and councillor attendance at council meetings. We are therefore calling for the flexibility to hold online and hybrid meetings to be restored to councils, to maintain these gains in accessibility, inclusion, and participation in local democracy. We support the public petition for councils in England to have the choice to meet remotely

Leadership development 

The LGA runs a wide range of leadership development programmes, including a series of networking events for those under-represented in local government, and particularly in leadership positions. The popular Women’s leadership programme supports women councillors to hone their political skills and build professional networks.

Online Safety Bill

The LGA recognises the delicate balance this legislation must maintain between preserving users’ freedom of expression and civil liberties whilst also protecting users from harmful content. We therefore welcome the user verification and user empowerment duty within this Bill that apply to category 1 services. The LGA welcomes these duties as they provide choice to adult users on what content and users they want to engage with whilst also allowing users to remain anonymous should they want or need too.

The Online Safety Bill introduces new criminal offences against false communication, threatening communication, sending flashing images with the intent of causing epileptic seizures, and cyber-flashing. The LGA previously called for cyber-flashing to be made a criminal offence, so we welcome its inclusion within the Bill. Overall, these offences are a useful provision to ensure that individuals posting harmful content are held to account. However, it will be dependent on the police and CPS being given adequate resources, training, and comprehensive guidance to ensure these offences are used appropriately.

To ensure services adhere to their new responsibilities, the Bill introduces new regulatory powers and responsibilities for Ofcom. Ofcom will be responsible for drafting codes of practice for all duties and ensuring services have the systems in place to adhere to these responsibilities; they also have powers to hold services to account should they need to. We ask Ofcom engages fully with relevant groups such as political parties and the LGA when developing its codes of practice to ensure there is consideration of unintended consequences. Ofcom must also be given adequate resources so that they can be agile and produce guidance at pace in line with emerging ‘harmful’ issues.

The LGA supported the Draft Online Safety Bill Joint Committee’s recommendation calling for Ofcom to publish a ‘safety by design’ code of practice. It is disappointing this has not been adopted, the LGA encourages the Government to produce a ‘safety by design’ overarching code of practice that can be referenced and adopted within the individual codes of practice.

The LGA broadly welcomes the new threatening and false communication offences, as well as the user empowerment and verification duty that will enable users to control what content and users they interact with. However, we encourage the Government and Ofcom to go further and adopt a clearer and more robust provisions to manage ‘low-level’ abuse experienced by councillors that falls below the criminal threshold. As part of this, the LGA would like assurances from the Government that the democratic and journalistic protections set out in this Bill will not inadvertently protect perpetrators of abuse.

We hope the Bill will go some way in addressing the concerns regarding abuse and intimidation online we have heard from our membership. However, we regret the removal of the harm-based communications offence by the government at committee stage in the Commons, which could have been an important tool in tackling this intimidation, harassment and abuse which would not otherwise meet a criminal level under existing legislation. This would have been a particularly helpful tool against misogynistic abuse and other non-threatening, but cumulatively and democratically damaging abuse experienced by women and other targeted people in politics at all levels.

Services for women 

Councils have a significant and positive impact on the lives of their female residents, through the range of vital services they provide. These range from the provision of affordable and secure housing, to providing support for new mothers and families, preventing domestic abuse, tackling female genital mutilation (FGM), and working to make public spaces safer for women.  

Tackling Domestic Abuse and Violence against women and girls (VAWG) 

Addressing VAWG and all forms of domestic abuse is a key priority for councils. Domestic abuse and other forms of violence and abuse, have devasting consequences for the victims, their families and children. As highlighted in the Government response to 'A Patchwork of Provision: how to meet the needs of victims and survivors across England and Wales, domestic abuse affects 2.4 million adults every year. It is high harm; one in five homicides is a domestic homicide. And it is high cost; the social and economic costs of domestic abuse are estimated to be in the region of £78 billion (2022 to 2023 prices) over a three-year average period of abuse.

As the Prime Minister outlined in the Beating Crime Plan, “If we are to succeed in levelling up this country we must give everyone the security and confidence that comes from having a safe street and a safe home”.  To effectively tackle domestic violence and VAWG we continue to advocate for a whole-system approach, that is underpinned by sustainable funding for the range of critical services, including children and family services. As the HMICFRS report highlights fundamental cross-system change is urgently needed to tackle an epidemic of VAWG.

Our ultimate aim is to prevent violence and domestic abuse from occurring in the first place, and we have been consistently calling for a greater focus on prevention and early intervention measures. This continue to call for increased national investment in evidence-based perpetrator programmes, which aim to prevent perpetrators behaviour, and for best practice from Domestic Homicide Reviews to be shared on a national level. We are pleased that the Government has listened to calls from the LGA and domestic abuse sector and has committed to bring forward a perpetrator strategy as part of the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Strategy. To make the progress that’s needed, this must be shaped by victims and survivors and be backed with long-term, adequate funding. 


Long-term, sustainable Government funding is needed to help councils and their partners deliver a comprehensive approach to tackle VAWG and domestic abuse, which enables long-term planning and the delivery of appropriate and accessible provision. Councils’ youth services and early-intervention children and family services play a vital role in identifying and supporting victims of abuse and stopping escalation to prevent violence occurring in the first place. There is clear evidence on the social and fiscal benefits of prevention and early help programmes, which shows that these interventions deliver both improved outcomes and cost-savings. However, these services remain under significant pressure with many councils consistently having to overspend on their children’s services budgets. 

Long-term and sustainable funding for specialist services for domestic abuse survivors is also needed to ensure help is available to all who need it, when they need it.  The Government has committed to use the results of the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s mapping exercise of support services across England and Wales to identify gaps and better target central government funding to local services, which is positive.  It will be important for the Government’s Victims Funding Strategy to better align and co-ordinate funding across Government departments to enable victims to receive the support they need.


For International Women’s Day, we have collated the following case studies of councils’ innovative work and projects to tackle discrimination and improve the lives of women: 

National Domestic Abuse Helpline: The free hotline can be reached 24 hours a day on:  0808 2000 247